When William and Mary responded to the invitation to accept the throne of England and William, Henry, Count of Nassau, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, arrived at Torbay on 5th November 1688, the orange tradition was born. It has long been popularly understood that William saved us, not only from ‘Popery, brass money and wooden shoes’, but also established civil and religious liberty in these islands.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in the London Times stated; “The best principles of the Glorious Revolution haven’t always been on display in Northern Ireland. But William the Deliverer was a true hero, and “the ould Boyne water” a famous victory. You don’t need a sash or a Lambeg drum to drink the Orange toast, to ‘Civil and Religious liberty’”.(1)
Martin Mansergh recognised the contribution of “aspects of the philosophy of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1689 which led eventually towards democracy and government by consent, even if the practice in Ireland was for a long while totally deplorable”. (2) He might well have added that the practice in Britain was not far behind.
How are these events understood today? The fickleness of human nature means that, in the words of the Simon and Garfunkel song “. . . the man hears what he wants to hear & disregards the rest” (3) We are all – Catholic/Protestant, Nationalist/Unionist – guilty of selective history.
The orange constituency still understand these events in the words of the Address – “Brother you have been initiated into the Orange Institution and we now proceed to give you a little of the history of our noble order and its workings. Orange associations were formed in England in 1688 to advance the interests of William the 3rd Prince of Orange. In whose name we associate, whose memory we cherish and who on the 1st July 1690 on the banks of the Boyne defeated the combined forces of Popery and tyranny in this country.” (4)
This of course is a very selective view of history and assumes that full ‘civil and religious liberty’ for all, was established by William following the Battle of the Boyne. Leaving the scandal of the Treaty of Limerick to the side, how does that explain the exodus of 250,000 Presbyterians from Ireland in the century following the battle? If it was not famine which drove them out it was freedom. William’s achievements were noble but they were but the beginning. They laid the foundations upon which others built. In that sense, ‘William the Deliverer was a true hero, and “the ould Boyne water” a famous victory.’
(1) The London Times 12th July 2000
(2) The Legacy of History – Martin Mansergh –Page 148
(3) The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel
(4) Orange Address given following initiation.